Another great theme to take advantage of when planning quick get-togethers is the famous Asian stir-fry. Having some special ingredients on hand makes putting one together as simple as choosing some sauce items, an appropriate starch and some fresh vegetables and possibly meat from the market. To make sure I'm ready for stir-frying at a moment, I try to have these ingredients on hand:
minced bottled garlic
Chinese five-spice powder
short grain brown rice
canned water chestnuts
Having these ingredients on hand means being able to put together a great sauce and simply add veggies (which can be bought prepared and bagged from the grocery store) and some lean meat -- many grocery stores have such things on hand that are already cut into bite-sized pieces. Stir-frying is a method that, by its very nature, is fast and easy. If you are having a group over, have everyone bring an ingredient that they'd love in a stir-fry or ask one friend to bring frozen egg rolls to warm up and another to bring a bottle of plum wine -- a perfect accompaniment to Asian foods.
Everyone loves pizza -- at least, when they get to choose the toppings! So why not cater to that desire by picking up a bunch of mini-pizza crusts (I like the ones made by Boboli) and letting friends top them any way they like? To make sure there will be a great mix of options, I try to have the following ingredients on hand:
canned artichoke hearts
bottled minced garlic
Then you add some things you picked up from the store -- ranging from shredded chicken to crumbled goat cheese -- and you've got the makings for as many gourmet pizzas as you can make! Preheat the oven with as many pizza stones as it will hold and keep rotating new creations in as others come out piping hot. Make sure you've got cold beer and soda on hand ... and if you're feeling really ambitious, toss together a mixed garden salad. When you're at the market, you might want to pick up something sweet from the bakery for dessert or ask a friend to bring something that will fill that role. Ta-da! You've got yourself a pizza party!
When it comes down to it, quick and easy entertaining is all about having a stocked pantry and refrigerator and being ready to pick up a few things at the store and accept the help that's offered by friends. Then you can sit back and relax as a festive atmosphere makes itself!